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Men’s Work, Or Is It?

Posted: January 28, 2013

As kids in India, we are brought up to certain stereotypes. Household chores like cleaning out attics, cleaning cars, fixing machinery around the house are all labeled ‘men’s work’. Anything to do with the kitchen, clothes, household items, come under the purview of the females. Growing up in a household, where the men in the house comprised of one person over 65 years of age and one under 10 years, I’ve been exposed to women doing all of the above jobs, irrespective of whether it was men’s work or women’s work.

Breaking the stereotype, my mother and I have climbed into attics and climbed down water tanks, fixed every sort of machinery around the house, from washing machines, to refrigerators to water pumps. There was always a manual to help, and what didn’t come with a manual, could mostly be solved with a bit of common sense.

Female electrician at workSo it came as a bit of a surprise when a couple of days back I heard a lady complain about how she would have to order lunch from a restaurant since the gas cylinder had run out and she would have to wait till evening when her husband returned and connected the other cylinder. The person in question is an independent, working woman, juggling duties of motherhood, wife-hood and an IT job. I offered to help her out, the reaction to which was, ‘Oh! Ye to admiyon ka kaam hai, aap kaise karoge? Kuch gadbad ho gayi to!’ (literally translated: This is men’s work, how will you do it? What if something goes wrong!) After a lot of persuading she agreed to let me ‘try’ and change the cylinder.

This seemingly trivial incidence highlights how, for every woman who has gained independence from the shackles that bind her to certain kinds of work, there are ten other women who still restrict themselves to what they deem as a work befitting a female. It also shows how an education does not necessarily ensure a change in the mindset, or a willingness to break away from the mold that society puts women into. These stereotypes are ingrained so deeply in our psyche that in spite of being fully capable, we are scared to break those barriers that restrict us. In spite of knowing the importance of being self-sufficient, we consciously stay away from breaking out of our comfort zones and doing things that will make us seem different. Is it fear, or just laziness?

It’s hard to change the mindset of those around us, but as parents it is certainly possible to keep our kids away from these gender stereotypes. At least the generations to come will have something to thank us for.

Pic of a female electrician at work in Israel, courtesy Government Press Office (Used under a Creative Commons license)

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3 Comments


  1. beyondpink

    You’re right. Not only in the domestic space, even in public life women in India have been restrained from taking up certain professions. In the construction industry, they are only the manual labourers, not the semi-skilled workers who wield the earth moving equipment, for instance. Or driving trucks and buses, or as servers in restaurants. Discourse on what the woman can do has a long way to go in India. Things are changing at a very slow pace.

    • Arunima Shekhar

      @Beyondpink – Thanks. Your comment brings 2 things to mind, one is the day when I was dissuaded from pursuing a civil engineering course at a leading college, since it was ‘not the right profession for a woman’. The second is a comment by a colleague, when he was playing with his 5 year old kid, another kid remarked, ‘oh aaj aap mummy vaala kaam kar rahe ho’ (you’re playing mummy’s role today). Gender stereotypes are built into our minds early on in our country.

  2. This reminds me of an incident from my newly married days. We had just finished eating and the floor in the living room had to be wiped clean. I was cleaning the kitchen and my husband took the mop and headed to clean the floor much to my mother-in-law’s dismay. She told him in their mother tongue (ours is an inter-caste love marriage) that he should not be doing the mopping and that it is my duty to do all this. My husband was disgusted more than surprised, and went ahead to mop the floor anyway. Petty things are labelled and discriminated on the basis of gender. I wish there was an end to all this.

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